Editor’s note: I won’t get into my political or philosophical leanings in this blog post as they would detract from the question of how education will look in the year 2020, but suffice it to say that I don’t believe that American schools are failing due to poor teaching, teacher unions, or “stale” older teachers. I don’t believe that America is suffering from a STEM crisis or a “skills” gap, or that American students are being outcompeted in the world due to poor instruction and pedagogy, and only business and their leaders know what is wrong with education and can fix it if only teachers and their unions would get out of the way. I’ll save those topics for other posts.
My wife and I recently watched the movie Her, which is set in the not too distant future. The premise of the movie is that AI (Artificial Intelligence) has become a reality and the newest OS (operating system)is an AI capable entity with the ability to learn and feel emotion. Technology hasn’t radically changed how people live and use computers; instead technology fits seamlessly into the lives of people without standing out, while making their lives much better and easier. Without giving away too much of the plot, the movie chronicles the main character’s relationship with the OS, and the OS’s relationship with the main character. I really enjoyed the movie and immediately after watching pulled out my iPad and starting playing with Siri, which while not as satisfying as an AI operating system is still a pretty neat experience. Watching Her got me thinking about the future and how technology will be integrated into our future society and whether our society will be markedly different than it is today.
In my vision for the future I think that, like in the movie Her, technology will become integrated in our society to the point that most people won’t even think about it or realize that it is there; sort of like the pacemaker that my wife has. While my wife knows her pacemaker is there and working, she only thinks about it on the rare occasion that she feels it pace to keep her heart rate from dropping too low. It is built in, unobtrusive, and requires no effort on the part of my wife to work. Like my wife’s pacemaker, I think most of the game changing technologies that occur in the future will be seamless and unobtrusive. When was the last time you thought about how your car’s cruise control worked or how your GPS unit knew where you were and the traffic ahead? In the future people will give little thought to how their car drives itself while they listen to music, nap, or work on a project. Life will continue as before, better and markedly easier, but so integrated you won’t remember life before it. I can hardly remember what it was like to live before there was the internet and cheap computers. Is my life better and easier? Yes. Is it radically different? No. A more compelling question for me is will education look radically different in 2020 than it does today? While I believe that education will look different in 2020 than it does today; I don’t believe that it will look radically different. Instead, technology will be used in the classroom in a way that effortlessly enhances teaching while being unobtrusive.
I imagine this classroom in the year 2020 to look something like this. Students all have laptops, iPads, or some other netbook device that is theirs to keep and use in every class. As students file in the door and sit down, they call up their class page where they find a link to a warm-up question(s). As they answer the questions data is automatically collected and sent to the teacher. This data allows the teacher to see how the class is doing as a whole, as well as who may be struggling and need extra help. After the warm-up students are given a final moment to upload or share their homework to the teacher. The teacher begins the lesson by showing a short video clip and then has the students break into groups, using their devices to answer questions/work on a project based on the clip. Students are expected to use a shared work space and cite relevant resources. A rubric is provided on the class page so students have a standard on which to base their assignment. 10 minutes later the teacher, who has been monitoring the work of the groups, pulls the students together to lead a lesson; using the information she monitored to guide her instruction and her students. After the lesson, students reassemble their groups and continue working on their projects. Students work right up until the bell. Homework is not assigned during class. Students are expected to check out their class blog where the assignment, if any, is posted along with specific instructions and a short video demonstration of the assignment. Students may ask questions using the blog post, or the class twitter account, with answers coming from both students and the teacher. Notes and other relevant information for the lesson, including a podcast of the lesson is also available on the class page. Class office hours are set every evening homework is assigned from 6-7 p.m. and students, or their parents, may communicate with the teacher via email or Skype to ask questions.
While I think there may be an uptick in online classes, I don’t foresee it taking the place of a classroom and classroom teachers. While I enjoy my online classes, I am a motivated student who has the prerequisites to be successful in an online class. Most K-12 students, on the other hand, lack the necessary skills to be successful online. Online learning is not the same as classroom learning, no matter how well structured. The easy back and forth that is present in the regular class is absent or requires extraordinary effort in an online class. That is not to say that very motivated students can’t or won’t do well; just that those students in 2020 will still be rare. To me online learning and the revolutions that are taking place in education apps and technology will impact the lifelong learner the greatest, especially those from places in the world where educational access is limited, as these are the students who are motivated and are willing to seek out novel ways of learning.
There are many factors that impact education. I think technology has a place in education and feel that the inclusion of new technologies has a good chance of impacting positively on education. I don’t think that by itself technology will disrupt education and change things drastically as learning does not take place in a vacuum. There are many outside factors that impact education far more than access to technology: poverty level, funding equality, political pressures, home situations, and job availability to name just a few. Technology cannot fix societal problems, or improve learning by its mere presence and is not an easy fix for the problems listed above. Technology is a useful tool that must be wielded in a thoughtful manner to ensure a positive outcome.